Donny Hathaway – Live

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  • Stunning sound throughout for this superb live album with both sides earning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Hathaway and his band are on fire here playing for an enthusiastic small club audience – this is the best album the man ever made and a true Must Own
  • Clean originals of this Classic Soul album are practically impossible to find in audiophile condition, and this one has its fair share of problems, but with music and sound this good, it’s a lot easier to overlook them
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Donny Hathaway’s 1972 Live album is one of the most glorious of his career… Live solidified Hathaway’s importance at the forefront of soul music.”

This is an absolutely superb recording. The best copies capture the feeling of a live club like few recordings you’ve ever heard. The enthusiasm of the crowd, the honest, emotive performances, the superb musicianship — it’s all there on a Shootout Winning Hot Stamper copy like this! (more…)

Mahler / Symphony No. 1 / Solti – Reviewed in 2010

More of the music of Gustav Mahler

Symphony No. 1 / Solti

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

The sound is AMAZING on this is a Minty Decca Black and Silver LP.

This is my favorite Mahler 1st.

Guaranteed to trouce the Decca 180g pressing or your money back.

The Day the Music Burned

The Day the Music Burned

Jody Rosen

1. ‘The Vault Is on Fire’

The fire that swept across the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood on Sunday, June 1, 2008, began early that morning, in New England. At 4:43 a.m., a security guard at the movie studio and theme park saw flames rising from a rooftop on the set known as New England Street, a stretch of quaint Colonial-style buildings where small-town scenes were filmed for motion pictures and television shows. That night, maintenance workers had repaired the roof of a building on the set, using blowtorches to heat asphalt shingles. They finished the job at 3 a.m. and, following protocol, kept watch over the site for another hour to ensure that the shingles had cooled. But the roof remained hot, and some 40 minutes after the workers left, one of the hot spots flared up.

The fire moved quickly. It engulfed the backlot’s famous New York City streetscape. It burned two sides of Courthouse Square, a set featured in “Back to the Future.” It spread south to a cavernous shed housing the King Kong Encounter, an animatronic attraction for theme-park visitors. Hundreds of firefighters responded, including Universal Studios’ on-site brigade. But the fire crews were hindered by low water pressure and damaged sprinkler systems and by intense radiant heat gusting between combustible structures.

Eventually the flames reached a 22,320-square-foot warehouse that sat near the King Kong Encounter. The warehouse was nondescript, a hulking edifice of corrugated metal, but it was one of the most important buildings on the 400-acre lot. Its official name was Building 6197. To backlot workers, it was known as the video vault.

Shortly after the fire broke out, a 50-year-old man named Randy Aronson was awakened by a ringing phone at his home in Canyon Country, Calif., about 30 miles north of Universal City, the unincorporated area of the San Fernando Valley where the studio sits. Aronson had worked on the Universal lot for 25 years. His title was senior director of vault operations at Universal Music Group (UMG). In practice, this meant he spent his days overseeing an archive housed in the video vault. The term “video vault” was in fact a misnomer, or a partial misnomer. About two-thirds of the building was used to store videotapes and film reels, a library controlled by Universal Studios’s parent company, NBCUniversal. But Aronson’s domain was a separate space, a fenced-off area of 2,400 square feet in the southwest corner of the building, lined with 18-foot-high storage shelves. It was a sound-recordings library, the repository of some of the most historically significant material owned by UMG, the world’s largest record company.

Aronson let the phone call go to voice mail, but when he listened to the message, he heard sirens screaming in the background and the frantic voice of a colleague: “The vault is on fire.” (more…)

The Doobie Brothers – The Captain and Me

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  • Excellent sound throughout with both sides rating a solid Double Plus (A++)
  • Natural Thing, China Grove and Long Train Runnin’ all sound great – smooth, rich and full of energy   
  • Credit Donn Landee with the full-bodied, rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of these good copies
  • Allmusic 4 1/2 stars: “The Doobie Brothers’ third long-player was the charm, their most substantial and consistent album to date, and one that rode the charts for a year.”

There are some great songs on this album, songs that still get plenty of play on the radio: China Grove, Long Train Running and South City Midnight Lady all come to mind. It’s tough to find great sounding copies, but it’s worth all the trouble when you get one with this kind of rich, full tonality, punchy bottom end and real space and ambience. (more…)

Chet Atkins – The Other Chet Atkins

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

It seems as though Bill Porter just doesn’t know how not to make an amazing sounding Living Stereo recording. Everything the guy touches is GOLD! Need a refresher course in tubey magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These records are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — it’s all here.

I suppose we owe a debt of gratitude to Harry Pearson for pointing out to us with his TAS List what a great record this is, although I’m pretty sure anybody playing this album would have no trouble telling after a minute or two that this recording is very special indeed. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – II – New Heavy Vinyl Discussed

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Sonic Grade: ?

Can’t give it one, we never played it.

Instead we would like to reprint some of the more interesting observations made by a well known writer concerning the sound of the Heavy Vinyl pressing in question. They are in no particular order and clearly taken out of context — we’re not even providing the reference to the specific songs under discussion. Some you can guess; as for the rest, what difference, at this point, does it really make?

Zep II – With Trees This Ugly, Would You Give the Forest a Good Grade?

Allow us to present: The Trees

the spatial presentation seemed meek

individual cymbal hits in that psychedelic break lacked sparkle

instead of an interruption eruption the changeover was anything but abrupt

overall musical intent wasn’t being fully communicated

spatially mashed together and lacking in detail delineation

You can barely make out the flanging effects on Plant’s voice

should send shivers but just doesn’t

The bass line was homogenized and the attack softened

Textures sounded bland

Microdynamic gestures—very familiar ones—seemed to have been lost

The album’s grit and edge seemed worn down

Page’s guitars… are homogenized

small dynamic differences that communicate intent blend into one level, quelling musical excitement

These are not my words, but I certainly recognize the feeling that must have prompted their writing. It’s the same feeling I have after playing most of the Heavy Vinyl records I’ve auditioned over the past few years, regardless of make or model. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Houses of the Holy

Houses of the Holy

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

The domestic copy you sent me of Houses of the Holy trashed my UK pressing. Side 1 is so engaging. What a difference a good Stamper makes; to be engaged by the music not just entertained. Thanks again.

Mark H.

Buffalo Springfield – Listening for Tubey Magic Down Low

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On even the best copies there’s a bit too much Tubey Magic in the bass I regret to say. Tubbiness and bloat were par for the course. This may explain why so many copies have rolled off bass; the engineer cut the bass because he heard how tubby it was and figured no bass is better than bad bass. 

Which is just not true. Cutting the bass leans out and “modernizes” the sound, making the voices sound thin and dry. This pretty much ruins everything on this album just the way it ruins everything in practically every modern recording I hear. Having your bass under control on the playback side isn’t easy — in fact it’s probably the hardest thing to achieve in audio — but it can be done, and with good bass control the slightly wooly bass is just part of the sound you learn to accept.

It doesn’t actually interfere much with your enjoyment of the music, mostly because all the other instruments and voices sounds so magical.

Tubey Magical Midrange

The kind of MIDRANGE MAGIC on this pressing let us hear into the music in a way we (and you too I’m guessing) never imagined was possible.

Most copies have no bass, no real top, and are compressed so badly they sound more like cardboard than vinyl. But not this copy — it breaks the mold, revealing to the world (well, our world anyway, the world at Better Records) that those badly recorded Buffalo Springfield records from the ’60s weren’t so badly recorded after all.



Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.

We have 250+ Audio Exercises you can try at home for fun and profit.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

Martin Denny – Exotica: Vol. 2

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Exotica: Volume II

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This Liberty ’60s Label Stereo LP has Hot Stamper EXOTIC SOUND on both sides. The cover says it’s The Ultimate in Transistorized Stereophonic Hi-Fidelity Sound, but I hear an awful lot of Tubey Magical richness and sweetness. The tonality is actually right on the money, a quality that the heavily tubey recordings rarely exhibit: they can easily get overly lush and turn murky.

  • Side two is White Hot – the sound positively JUMPS out the speakers
  • It’s shockingly 3-Dimensional, rich and Tubey Magical – you won’t believe it
  • Side one is quite good at A+ to A++ – it gets better as it plays
  • One of our favorite Martin Denny records – wonderfully spacious Exotica sound from 1957

We played a big pile of Martin Denny records during our shootout, not having enough clean copies of any one of them to do it the way we would with rock or jazz records, and this pressing was one of the best we heard, musically and sonically. (more…)

The Band – The Band (2011)

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More The Band – The Band

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Holy mother of god, this is one KNOCKOUT copy of The Band’s self-titled masterpiece! Both sides earned our top grade of A+++ and beat the pants off every other copy — including quite a few RL-mastered originals — in the shootout. On top of that, both sides play between Mint Minus and Mint Minus Minus, which is pretty dan quiet for this album. We love this music, but most copies out there have flimsy sound, trashed vinyl, or both. Here’s the exceedingly rare copy that does just about everything right WITHOUT the typical crackly campfire surface noise!

This Capitol Green Label pressing mastered by Robert Ludwig has TWO KILLER SIDES. When you play either side of this copy, you are going to lose your mind. It’s got Master Tape clarity, You Are There presence, and unbelievable transparency. Drop the needle on Night They Drove Old Dixie Down or Up On Cripple Creek and get ready for some SERIOUS MAGIC! (more…)